Operating profit, excluding bets by high stakes gamblers, increased by 0.9 percent to GBP 243.8 million in the year to December 31, just ahead of the market consensus of GBP 240 million, based on a survey of 19 analysts by the company.
"We think these results will be well received and with the current trading still not demonstrating any signs of a slowdown we would expect the shares to react positively," said Numis analyst Richard Carter.
Carter, who kept an 'add' recommendation, upgraded his 2009 pretax profit forecast by 16 percent to GBP181.1 million, and his 2010 forecast by 1 percent to GBP159.5 million.
"All of our businesses are showing remarkable resilience. People still like going to have a few pounds on a bet," Chief Executive Chris Bell told reporters and television news journalists on a conference call.
"The business is much stronger in depth now, Bell said. "In the last recession, we didn't have machines, we didn't have different products and we had no Web business."
The company reported that gross win increased by 11.1 percent during the year to GBP1.14 billion, excluding bets by high stakes gamblers. However, trade in the first six weeks of the current (2009) year had been affected by bad weather which led to several horseracing meetings being cancelled and between 200-300 shops being closed as snow stopped staff getting to work.
Bell revealed that there had been twice as many race cancellations than in the previous year over the first six weeks of 2009, and the rate of abandonments was three times greater than the average for that time of the year. Despite this unfavourable start, gross win since the end of 2008, excluding high rollers, was 1 percent up on the previous year.
High rollers contributed GBP80.1 million to operating profit during the year 2008, and they have contributed GBP24 million pounds to operating profit in the first six weeks of 2009.
Other highglights from the report:
* Excluding High Rollers, gross win increased by 11.1 percent to GBP1 143.9 million (2007: GBP1 029.4 million).
* A good UK Retail performance saw gross win increase by 4.7 percent to GBP773.9 million (2007: GBP739.3 million).
* eGaming net gaming revenue increased by 20.0 percent to GBP172.2 million (2007: GBP143.5 million).
* Operating profit(1), excluding High Rollers, increased by 0.9 percent to GBP243.8 million (2007: GBP241.7 million).
* High Rollers contributed GBP80.1 million of operating profit to the Group during the period (2007: GBP179.0 million).
* Cash generated by operations was GBP414.7 million.
* At 31 December 2008 Group net debt was GBP987.1 million; undrawn committed bank facilities totalled GBP510.4 million.
* Final dividend maintained at 9.05 pence per share, giving a total dividend of
14.15 pence per share.
Bell said: "Our eGaming business increased net gaming revenues by 20 percent, reflecting the success of our new customer acquisition initiatives announced this time last year. Our organic international growth has continued, and we have invested to grow our shop estate in Ireland and Belgium, and establish our presence in Italy and Spain."
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